One of the pioneers of steel string acoustic guitar, Robbie Basho didn't get nearly the amount of recognition while he was alive as some of his contemporaries (like Leo Kottke and John Fahey). Over time, though, appreciation of his work has blossomed, and young musicians like James Blackshaw, Jack Rose, and others have celebrated his work as a major influence and guiding light. Although he released sixteen albums (on labels such as Takoma, Vangaurd and even Windham Hill), only a few of them are still in print.
As more get interested in his work, labels have started to slowly re-release his recordings. Tompkins Square put out his excellent Venus In Cancer a couple years back and included one of his tracks on the second volume of their Imaginational Anthems compilation series. Bonn Ist Supreme is the newest release of his work, and unlike those other studio efforts, this one is a live recording made from a previously unheard November 24, 1980 performance at the Kultureforum in Bonn Germany.
Although I mentioned all those other guitarists above, I have to say that Basho sort of inhabits a world entirely his own. Playing with a 12-string guitar and having studied under Indian virtuoso Ali Akbar Khan, his influences are as wide-ranging as Classical, Blues, Americana, and Eastern. Oh, and he sings at times, with a unique voice that's almost jolting when you first hear it, but becomes such an integral part of the music that you can't imagine some of his pieces without it.
Pulled from a second-hand cassette recording, Bonn Ist Supreme sounds great given the source material. It opens with two Americana numbers in "Redwood Ramble" and "Fandango," and you can hear him stomping and at times singing along with the jumpy latter song as it unfolds briskly. On tracks like "Rocky Mountain Raga," one can hear his clean blurring of influences (as well as his usual jovial banter) as he blends touches of Americana and the Indian raga in a way that's absolutely stunning. His soaring vocals only push it into the next dimension.
The entire sixty-six minute release is full of charm, and on songs like the gorgeous, droning "Cathedrals et Fleur de Lis," one can hear the influence Basho had on artists like the aforementioned Blackshaw, while pieces like the closer "California Raga" again offer up his own singular vision. Although he died at the young age of only 46, Basho certainly carved out his own unique legacy in that time period. If you enjoy any of the aforementioned artists and haven't heard his work, it's probably time you do.